When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’ The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:5-8 NIVUK) 

“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NIVUK) 

I am home again from a short spell in two Dominican monasteries in the Netherlands. At Huissen I joined the community for Vespers on the night I arrived. The Scripture reading was Matthew 8:1-13, the report of Jesus healing a centurion’s son at a distance. My mind and internal timeclock were still adjusting to the slight difference in time zone and to the distances travelled by air, by rail and by road to get there. I was also conscious of a linguistic ‘distance’ (the service was in Dutch of course) and a cultural ‘distance’ (how to behave, when to stand, when to sit, etc.). So, the reading struck an unexpected chord that I found myself reflecting on in my consciousness of distance. 

Jesus, in response to the centurion’s faith, healed at a distance. His power does not depend on His presence. It’s so obvious in the story and yet it came with fresh force and relevance for me that night. I was, after all, at a considerable distance, not just from home but from this biblical event. There was the physical distance of being in Huissen, not Capernaum. Capernaum, Google helpfully tells me, is 2,715 miles from Huissen or 48 hours driving time or 63 days if I could walk 12 hours a day at a steady 4mph! There was a temporal distance of course, the centurion’s servant was healed some 2,000 years ago. There was also the cultural distance: I am not Jewish and do not speak Aramaic. 

And yet I was immediately struck by the fact that the centurion’s servant “was healed at that moment.” The ‘distances’ I was feeling were, in many ways, no different to those the centurion must have felt within this episode: physical, geographical, temporal and cultural. Yet none of these gaps were a barrier to the ability and capacity of Jesus to answer a prayer. I reflected further on the two years of enforced distance we have experienced through COVID restrictions. The physical distances between us seem to have fed a spiritual distance too: our separation and isolation from our familiar routines of fellowship and worship have left many of us feeling God has become more distant. He hasn’t, of course. In our heads we know the theological truth that He is the God who never leaves us nor forsakes us. But in our hearts, we long to know He is still there. We wonder if we have become distanced from His reach. And so, this story from Matthew 8/Luke 7 is precious indeed. It reminds us that Jesus overcomes every barrier and distancing factor for those who seek Him out. 

Be encouraged this weekend. Wherever you are, whatever situation you are in, Jesus is only a prayer away.